Reading Life

                Reading habits differ as much as tastes in TV or music. There are those who do not read at all, choosing to derive their entertainment from the screen. There are those who eschew books in favour of newspapers, magazines or manuals. There are those who consider fiction beneath them and opt for worthy non-fiction. Then there are issues of class or generation.

Years ago I was quizzed by a gentile, elderly great-aunt-in-law as to what my preferred ‘light’ reading tastes were and I responded with more enthusiasm than prudence, eagerly blurting out a long list that included lurid thrillers, shallow romances, juicy, explicit murder mysteries and science fiction. Her stony faced response was an impressive put-down as she shared her leisure time favourites- Jane Austen, George Eliot-and for more vicarious pleasure, Charles Dickens. I refrained from inquiries about her ‘serious’ reading choices, fearing I may have already become so far out of my depth my feet had floated out from underneath me.

I was a voracious reader as a child; the child who could not be torn from a book for anything, not to help with the dishes, to lift her feet for the vacuum cleaner or for sleep. There were books I longed for, having heard them serialised on the radio [a joy children are deprived of these days]. The Christmas morning I awoke to find that Santa had left a hardback copy of ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ on the end of my bed is my most memorable. I still have it, along with many other beloved childhood novels- Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows and Eleanor Farjeon’s beautiful take on Cinderella, ‘The Glass Slipper’.

As a teacher of young children I managed to squeeze in enough time to indulge my enjoyment of children’s literature by regular readings of my own favourites as well as theirs-Roald Dahl and Dick King-Smith included. It was gratifying to see them coming in with their own prized copies of these novels, even those whose ability was not quite, yet, up to the task of reading the stories themselves.

Then there are the film versions. I have never been able to shake the compulsion to see a film version of a book despite knowing from experience that it is never going to match the depth and pleasure of its print original.

Even now that I am approaching my dotage I still come across novels that captivate me to a point where I become evangelistic about them, urging others to read them and feeling vastly disappointed if the response does not match my own. D. C. B Pierre’s ‘Vernon God Little’ was one of these. I eulogised ad nauseam over it but found no one to share my enthusiasm. When my frustrations at the dearth of post book analysis became overwhelming I joined a book club, only to find that within the narrow confines of those who enjoy fiction novels there is the same mismatch of tastes.

But whatever is read, one truth remains. The written word is the most wonderful invention known to man!

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Shameless gadgetry of the reading kind.

Are you an e-reader or a p-reader? I am guessing you are a reader, because you are reading a blog-but which sort?

                The march of all things digital forges on like the charge of the Light Brigade. The digital front, I believe, cannot now be halted. We have seen this irrevocable development in music, where downloads have eclipsed all other forms including tapes, CDs, mini-discs and the like. Of course all these formats are still available, together with ‘vinyl’. ‘Vinyl’ however is very much the preserve of nostalgia junkies, those of us who lament the passing of the album and it’s arty, expansive cover…useful, as I recall, for all manner of activities-proper and improper.

                Increasingly, a similar divide exists in literary production. Among readers, as with music lovers, people tend to be either firmly in the e-book camp or clinging emotionally to p-books. In defence of p-books, most of the argument tends towards romantic and usually includes some of the following:

  • ‘Oh-but I love the smell of a real book’.

Yes-the smell. Most of my paperback purchases were from charity shops or second hand bookshops. The smell would often be accompanied by stuck together pages and unidentifiable stains…

  • I like to hold a proper book in my hands and turn the pages.

OK. [why?]

  • They look lovely on the shelves/add to the decor etc

They do. I still have packed shelves of real, proper books. They do look attractive. I just haven’t added to them in recent years.

  • You can write on them/highlight/return to parts/bookmark and so on.

Actually, I never did scribble on books, even as a child, when I believed, as I do now that a book was an object to be revered, treasured and kept pristine for posterity. You can do all of these actions to an e-book.

  • Bookshops and libraries will go out of business.

Many bookshops will go out of business, like record shops. They will either have to adapt in cunning ways or sink without trace. I think there will always be a market for children’s books, for example.

 

I am a convert to e-readers, although I have regrets about owning one from a certain, best-selling, market smothering, tax-avoiding company.  Before I succumbed to going all electronic my reading purchases were random and not necessarily successful. I was inclined to stick with writers I knew or titles I’d heard of.

I’d get anxious before any lengthy travel that I would be stuck somewhere remote without anything to read, not having the capacity or strong enough arms to carry the weight of that number of books [my reading appetite is of the voracious type]. Now I can load a library full of titles and if I’ve devoured them all I can access some internet and replenish the supply in seconds.

Husband has a subscription to a newspaper on his reader, so that he will never be anywhere without knowing the latest rugby results or how much lower the pound has sunk.

Most books are considerably cheaper to buy than their paper versions which means that the device has more than paid for itself by now. Classics are, for the most part, completely free. This has led me to tackle many titles I might have avoided, [with varying degrees of success!] I am still flogging my way through ‘Les Miserables’, albeit with interludes of respite, but I loved Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’.

 

So I am wedded to my tiny, purple, leather clad gadget, even though I still read an occasional paperback for my book club. How about you?